One of the most common question family law attorneys have been receiving is whether parents who live separate and apart must still comply with parenting orders during the pandemic.  The short answer, even before most states and counties announced guidelines, is yes.  Many states and counties now have specific guidelines regarding custody orders and you should check the appropriate court website for specific rules.  However, the following tips may be helpful in understanding how to implement your parenting plan while stay at home orders are in place.

  1. Follow-the regular school schedule. Absent court orders to the contrary, even though children are not in school, follow the parenting schedule as if the children are in school.  Accordingly, if school is out of school at 3 p.m. and the normal schedule provides that the exchange of parenting time to take place after school, the exchange should take place at 3 p.m.  In addition, summer parenting time should start when the regular school year would normally end.
  2. Find neutral places for the exchange. School is a typical place for exchanges. However, with school out, many parents may not want to exchange at the other parent’s residence. In such cases, consider neutral places for the exchange.  Empty school, church and restaurant parking lots all make good choices for exchanges.  Choose a place that is equal distance from each parent’s home.
  3. Follow social distancing guidelines. While it is understandable that you may wish to invite grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends over to visit with the children during your parenting time, avoid such interactions when the children are present. The failure to follow social distancing rules will likely lead to complaints by the other parent and potential motions filed in court.
  4. Essential travel includes parenting exchanges, not vacations. With the children out of school, it may be tempting to want to travel to visit relatives and friends. While parenting time exchanges are essential travel, vacations are not.
  5. Consider temporary modifications of parenting plans. During these unusual times where parents are responsible for education and entertainment of young children, while also having to work from home, consider making temporary changes.  Week on/Week off schedules may work better than children switching households every couple of days.  In addition, although long-distance parenting plans that have children traveling by plane out of state for parenting time are still in effect, some accommodations and modifications may be appropriate.   Talk to the other parent about limiting out of state travel and devising a plan for make-up time so the parent who agrees to give up time now is not penalized in the future for missing parenting time.

It is often difficult to discuss any changes or come to any agreements with the other parent under normal circumstances. However, this is a time when parents should try to come together, find common ground, and make accommodations in the best interest of the children.  Showing your flexibility now may serve to buy you a bit of goodwill in the event changes to your parenting plan are needed in the future.

About the Author:

Marlene Pontrelli is a Member in our Phoenix office and co-chair of the firm’s Family Law Practice. Marlene is a certified specialist in family law. Her practice focuses on all aspects of family law including dissolution, post-dissolution, paternity, child custody and child support matters. She is admitted to practice in California and Arizona. She is a judge pro tem for the Superior Court of Maricopa County in family law. She has extensive trial and appellate experience including appearing before the Arizona Court of Appeals, Arizona Supreme Court and Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Ms. Pontrelli has written several books, including as a co-author of the Divorce in Arizona book. She is a frequent lecturer in the area of family law and has conducted workshops throughout the country. Ms. Pontrelli is also an adjunct professor at The Sandra Day O’Connor School of Law at Arizona State University, where she teaches the family law class. Marlene may be reached in our Phoenix office at 602-285-5081.